FCS Changes for the 2023 Season

Editor’s note: This post was updated on Thursday, July 20 to reflect the CAA’s new name and on August 10 to include the 12-game schedule allowance for the 2024 and 2025 seasons and Bryant’s move to the CAA in 2024. This post was further updated on September 8 with the news of West Georgia moving to Division 1.

Another FCS season is on the horizon, with it is a bevy of changes. As we have done with the 2020, 2021, and 2022 seasons, below is a list of all the changes for 2023 and beyond. There’s a summarized list at the end of the article if you prefer not to get knee-deep in the weeds. Let’s start with the conference changes in the FCS.

The ASUN and WAC Team Up Again… in the UAC

The ASUN and WAC will partner up for the third straight year. Back in 2021, the two conferences had a scheduling agreement followed by another scheduling alliance in 2022. The 2023 season brings a whole new change as the ASUN and WAC have formed the football-only United Athletic Conference. As detailed in our April 2023 post, all football members in the ASUN and WAC will become members of the UAC. In 2023, Abilene Christian, Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, North Alabama, Southern Utah, and Stephen F. Austin will compete for the conference’s automatic qualifying bid to the FCS playoffs. Those 7 teams will compete in a 6-game conference schedule to determine the UAC winner.

Beyond 2023, things expand a bit with Tarleton State and Utah Tech becoming full Division 1 members in 2024 and both schools will compete for the AQ bid. As a result, the UAC will play an 8-game round-robin schedule in 2024 to determine the AQ bid. Also happening in 2024 is West Georgia joining the UAC to give the conference 10 members. In 2025, UT Rio Grande Valley will play its first season of football as a member of the UAC.

Big South and Ohio Valley Conference Join Forces for AQ Bid

Taking a page out of the ASUN and WAC’s playbook, the Big South and Ohio Valley Conferences will team up in football starting with the 2023 season. Both conferences are below the minimum required to maintain an AQ bid for the FCS playoffs. The Big South will have four members in 2023: Bryant, Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, and Robert Morris. The OVC has six members but only five are full Division 1 members: Eastern Illinois, Lindenwood (transitioning from Division 2), Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee Martin, Tennessee State, and Tennessee Tech.

The two conferences announced the scheduling alliance in February 2022 and released a full 2023 schedule in December. For 2023, all 10 teams will play a 6-game conference schedule to determine the champion. Complete details of how the league will be administered and tiebreakers are not yet known but the two conferences will keep the alliance through the 2026 season.

The CAA Becomes… The CAA

The Colonial Athletic Association is no more as the conference has renamed itself to Coastal Athletic Association. The CAA will still refer to itself as the CAA and will continue to use the CAA logo. The CAA changed the name to Coastal to, “…reflect the CAA’s recent expansion, with members spanning the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to South Carolina.”

Schools Shifting Conferences

Given the current realignment cycle, it’s no surprise that schools are moving to new conferences in 2023. All the changes outside of the aforementioned ASUN and WAC to UAC will be detailed below.

Two schools are leaving the FCS to become FBS members with another team following the same path. Jacksonville State is leaving the ASUN and Sam Houston State is leaving the WAC with both schools joining Conference USA. Both JSU and SHSU were ineligible for the FCS playoffs in 2022 as a result of the transition to FBS, which is the same boat Kennesaw State will be in. The Owls will be considered an FCS Independent in 2023 and ineligible for the FCS playoffs. The Owls will also join C-USA in 2024.

The Big South Conference duo of Campbell and North Carolina A&T are leaving to join the Colonial Athletic Association. While Campbell is moving nearly all of its sports to the CAA, NCAT is a football-only move in 2023 as the majority of its sports left for the CAA in 2022. The Aggies delayed the football move until 2023 to help the Big South maintain its AQ bid to the FCS playoffs.

That brings us to the final FCS-to-FCS change for 2023: Murray State is leaving the Ohio Valley Conference to join the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Murray State will be the 12th team in the MVFC and they have their work cut out for them as the MVFC has won 10 of the last 12 FCS National Championships. The last two teams to win the FCS title not from the MVFC were James Madison in 2016 and Sam Houston State in 2020. Both of those schools are now in the FBS.

Future Changes and Other Developments

We previously stated that UT Rio Grande Valley is bringing football in 2025 as a member of the UAC. In addition to that, they will be fully eligible for the FCS Playoffs in that first season giving the UAC an instant boost to its eligible member count. It must be noted that the ASUN and WAC have made it quite clear they want the newly formed UAC to become an FBS conference. Whether that happens or the potential implications of such a move are unclear for now.

The UAC will also have a new member in 2024 after the news of West Georgia’s move up to Division 1. The Wolves will join the ASUN, which created a football-only conference with the WAC. West Georgia will give the UAC 10 teams and UTRGV will make it 11 teams a year later.

Another full member of the WAC – UT Arlington – is potentially bringing back football. It must be noted that this is the first step in a long process and the referendum passed by the students to begin bringing back football is non-binding. UTA has seen many attempts to restart its football program that have all ended unsuccessfully. Let’s hope this time is different. Xavier is also considering a return to the gridiron and a decision on that is expected by the end of 2023. The Musketeers would likely play in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League.

Speaking of football not coming to a campus near you… the University of New Orleans will not be welcoming football anytime soon. Students at UNO voted against an increase in athletic fees in November 2022 and the administration intends to honor the results of the referendum.

Western Illinois will leave the MVFC after the 2023 season and join the OVC in 2024. All other sports will leave the Summit League – WIU’s previous conference – after the 2022-23 year and join OVC in 2023-24.

The CAA will welcome yet another school in 2024 with Bryant deciding to leave the Big South. Bryant will become the 16th football member of the CAA in 2024 assuming no current members decide to leave.

The NCAA proposed new changes to any program wishing to move from the FCS to FBS aimed at stemming the number of teams moving between subdivisions. Included changes are an increased minimum amount in scholarships offered per year (increasing from $4 million to $6 million) and the one-time entry fee to become an FBS member (increasing from $5,000 to $5 million).

Typically, FCS teams are limited to 11-game schedules but the 2024 and 2025 seasons will include a scheduling quirk that allows FCS teams to play a 12-game schedule. The 2024 and 2025 calendar has 14 Saturdays of permissible games according to the NCAA’s 17.11.6.1 bylaw allowing an additional game in each season.

Ineligible Teams

With all the recent changes, we also need to keep in mind that some teams will not be eligible for the FCS Playoffs as a result. Kennesaw State is not eligible for the FCS playoffs as part of its two-year transition from FCS to FBS.

A quartet is still ineligible for the FCS playoffs as a result of transitions from Division 2 or 3. Lindenwood (OVC), St. Thomas (Pioneer), Stonehill (NEC), and Texas A&M-Commerce (Southland) are all ineligible for the FCS Playoffs until the 2026 season. Meanwhile, Tarleton State and Utah Tech are in the final season of ineligibility. In 2024, both teams will be eligible for the UAC championship and the FCS playoffs.

For some good news: Merrimack is now eligible for the FCS playoffs starting in 2023 after completing its four-year transition from Division 2. The Warriors went 6-1 in the NEC and 8-3 overall in 2022 as they finished second behind Saint Francis (PA).

Summary

Below is a table summarizing everything we discussed above for 2023, 2024, and beyond. We also included the ineligible teams for the 2023 season for future reference.

TeamPrevious ConferenceNew ConferenceFirst Season
in New Conference
Notes
Abilene ChristianWACUAC2023
Austin PeayASUNUAC2023
CAACAACAA2023Name Change
CampbellBig SouthCAA2023
Central ArkansasASUNUAC2023
Eastern KentuckyASUNUAC2023
Jacksonville StateASUNC-USA (FBS)2023
Murray StateOVCMVFC2023
North AlabamaASUNUAC2023
North Carolina A&TBig SouthCAA2023
Sam Houston StateWACC-USA (FBS)2023
Southern UtahWACUAC2023
Stephen F. AustinWACUAC2023
Tarleton StateWACUAC2023Ineligible for FCS Playoffs until 2024
Utah TechWACUAC2023Ineligible for FCS Playoffs until 2024
BryantBig SouthCAA2024
Kennesaw StateASUN / FCS IndependentC-USA (FBS)2024Ineligible for FCS Playoffs in 2023
West GeorgiaGulf South (D2)UAC2024Ineligible for FCS Playoffs until 2028-29
Western IllinoisMVFCOVC2024
UT-Rio Grande ValleyWACUAC2025Starting football program
LindenwoodOVCOVCN/AIneligible for FCS Playoffs until 2026
MerrimackNECNECN/AEligible for FCS Playoffs starting in 2023
St. Thomas (MN)PioneerPioneerN/AIneligible for FCS Playoffs until 2026
StonehillNECNECN/AIneligible for FCS Playoffs until 2026
Texas A&M-CommerceSouthlandSouthlandN/AIneligible for FCS Playoffs until 2026

Photo courtesy of Murray State University Athletics

4 thoughts on “FCS Changes for the 2023 Season”

  1. Are you hearing anything about the Big South going after any of the D2 schools in their region? Wingate is growing rapidly and has been dominating for several years. Lenior-Rhyne has also been a top 25 program consistently for the last decade. There’s also West Georgia and Valdosta State if they want to venture into Georgia, although they may fit better into the ASUN footprint, especially UWG.

    Reply
    • I’ve heard very little but it certainly makes sense given the Southeast is rich in programs to choose from and there’s also the desire to be a Division 1 school. The partnership between the Big South and OVC lasts for 4 seasons through 2026 and with the 4-year transition process, they’d need to start getting any D2 schools to commit soon.

      Reply
  2. You’re right, but school population isn’t the only thing that matters. Wingate and LR have both made deep runs in the D2 playoffs and been more successful in the last decade than UNCP.

    The Big South lost out when Presbyterian ended up being a bust at the FCS level. They need to find schools that can step up and actually be competitive immediately.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: